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A thorough strategy to deal with rape needed

India is facing a sexual violence pandemic where the rape cases have almost doubled in the last 17 years

Ritesh Sharma

The mood at the beginning of this year was sombre. The happy go normal times were shadowed by the lab made virus infecting human life all over. From mere 500 cases in March this year we are now at seventy three lac people infected. Without falling into questions and accusations as to how corona is dealt with by the government, we should be more concerned about something that’s unlike corona, is not new, has happened earlier, every year and it happens on a daily basis. It is a huge symbol of collective shame for our criminal justice system and us being called humans. It is the Sexual violence pandemic where the rape cases have almost doubled in the last 17 years!

The hideous Nirbhaya gang rape in 2012 incited the nation compelling the policymakers to amend the criminal law with stringent punishment for rape and sexual assault cases. At the same time the increase of rape crime against children from 8541 rapes in 2012 to 19765 in 2016 seemed not enough to raise the alarm for our legislators until the high profile case of rape and murder of an eight year old girl in Kashmir and another similar incidence in Madhya Pradesh occurred. Soon after the heinous crime, the law governing crime against children, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 was amended to introduce death penalty for the rape of children below 12 years.

The easiest escape for our governments has always been the popular decisions including the amendment of criminal laws, providing for stringent punishments and involving CBI into investigation. The imposition of the severe punishment including death penalty for rape has attracted much criticism. Experts suggest that any such stringent punishment for rape may further endanger victim to murder by accused rather than him risking the victim testifying in court.

If  National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data is to be believed, the rape susceptibility of any girl or woman has increased by 44 percent with over 3, 13,000 rape cases reported from 2010-2019. If we look at the data from 2001, it almost doubled till 2017. The data should send shock waves through the nation, jolting our complacent political, police and judicial system out of its slumber leaving behind a spew of questions in its aftermath.

  1. Why do we need tragedies of mammoth proportions to take any actions in even the most basic preventive & safety measures?
  2. Why is our police system not able to protect us?
  3. Why do the basic facilities like public transport system, helplines, emergency services and women, children safety remain mere lip service for the majority of us?
  4. And why does the media behave like an investigator, influencing every step of investigations rather than reporting the facts?

The series of rape cases like Kathua, Unnao and now Hathras clearly imply as to how the knee-jerk reaction from the legislators and executive by imposing harsher punishment for rape and sexual offences have failed to dissuade perpetrators.

The various recommendations and amendments in laws and the administration of justice have just tried to cover major gaps in the legal provisions about crime against women. Even the efforts of legislation recognising various forms of violence against women and making them punishable have not helped.

The ever increasing number of cases of rape and violence against women and children despite the severe punishment makes us wonder if there is a way to curb the menace. Are we not risking the victims and the criminal jurisprudence by holding the trunk when a twist of tail could have achieved the desired?

A rape victim was set ablaze on fire when she was on her way to attend the court date in her case. She had to struggle for over a km to seek help but no one came forward. Later she called the police on her own before collapsing. There are numerous such cases where the victim who stands for justice actually risks it with her life.

Justice comes at the end and often delayed and the road that leads to justice is through the police and prosecution.

If we have a closer look at the investigation of various rape cases, it suggests a series of flaws by the police, medical, prosecutors and the lawyers who expose the victim to undue torment often making the conviction impossible. There is no witness or victim protection making the survivor deplorable and exposed to her predator.

According to NCRB, out of total 1,56,327 rape cases on trial in 2018, 17,313 cases were concluded with conviction in only 4,708 cases, 11,133 acquittals and 1,472 were discharged. The snail pace of justice suggests a complete overhauling of the criminal justice system. There is an immediate need to improve the moral standard of police with increased transparency and efficiency in their working to ensure speedy justice to victims and survivors of sexual assault.

With this the judiciary has the primary responsibility of enforcing various measures to contain the faulty investigations and speedy trial in sexual offences through constitutional remedies. The judiciary should come up with suo moto cognizance of such glaring issues with increased monitoring and deterring sentences for reckless and careless investigations.

The hastily drawn amendments by the government are definitely in bad taste as well as motivated to attain political brownie points. We note with great alarm the foolish provisions about protocols for medical examination of victims of sexual assault. Women rights organisations have pointed out that this is a far cry from what the collective protests should have resulted in. When there is a lack of confidence in the intentions of the government to deal with the menace that affects more than half of our population, women and children in almost all sections of the society, the very purpose of governance is negated!

There is also the two edged sword of “freedom of press” slaying the voice of many in recent times. How long can these media trials be allowed to guide and influence the investigation with own cooked up stories and self acclaimed investigations? Is it not just a run for breaking news or TRPs rather than actual journalism?

A thorough strategy to deal with all such issues is the need today. The pertinent question is if the basic structure of our society is ready to accept the victim and sexual offence survivors. We are looming on the brink of a cultural crisis. The situation is aggravated with numerous flaws in the criminal justice system, inefficient police, medical and prosecution. The lack of victim and witness protection further aggravates the situation for the victim. On the other hand the law enforcement agencies or delayed justice have failed to brew the fear or respect in the minds of culprits. All this makes the life of the victim miserable as she is branded or blamed for having raised her voice, setting an example for many other victims who learn to remain silent.

Ritesh Sharma is activist and legal consultant, the views expressed are personal.
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